Last year I was lucky enough to visit Monte Carlo and had an opportunity to see the beautiful city when the Formula One circus was not in town. Although I already knew a large effort went into constructing the Grand Prix circuit each year, I didn’t fully appreciate how different some parts of Monaco appear from the F1 scenes on television.
The following photos help illustrate the transformation that takes place in Monaco each year before F1’s most glamorous event.
The chequered start line and grid hatchings at Monaco are visible all year. The racetrack doesn’t actually use the full width of the road here (as evidenced by the width of the start line itself) which leaves space for the marshalling and grandstand infrastructure on the main straight.
The first corner at Monaco is actually a roundabout. Up until 2003 the middle off this roundabout was permanent and drivers would have to race around it. These days the garden is removable and there is more run-off available on the inside of the tricky first turn. Prior to 1976 the F1 circuit actually used the faster line that swept past the inside of the intersection but this was deemed too dangerous so the corner has been tighter and slower since.
At the top of the hill F1 drivers are greeted by the fast and narrow Massenet corner before Casino Square. Regular traffic is diverted up to the left of this corner and only those who wish to access the Casino drive past the vespas and flower boxes.
The roads immediately around the iconic Monte Carlo Casino are used primarily for parking. It’s the place to be seen and is very popular with tourists. The elevation and camber on the road through the right hander exiting Casino Square is quite severe. This ‘bump’ in the road gives F1 drivers plenty of oversteer exiting the complex, and F1 photographers plenty of opportunities for action shots. Apparently, a coffee inside the Casino on race day will set you back 200 Euros. No thanks.
The run down to Mirabeau is made narrower for road traffic with some flower boxes and alfresco diners on the Grand Prix racing line. It’s another corner where the camber is quite notable.
The kink coming out of Mirabeau is surprisingly tight. If you continue straight on at the hairpin you’ll drive into the carpark of the Grand Hotel, formerly the Lowes Hotel, which was formerly the site of a train station. The red and white kerbing is present all year but road traffic heading down the hill must keep to the right and is unable to ride the apex.
The permanent ripple strips on the run towards the harbour remind drivers in regular traffic they’re cruising along a unique piece of road. The road lanes weave their way through flower boxes here and also at the Portier corner where they prevent any punters from taking the racing line.
Surprisingly, the Monaco tunnel is nowhere near as empty as it appears on television. On the right hand side of the circuit there are multiple entrances/exits to an underground carpark, and on the left side there are some shops and even a theatre. The corner through the tunnel is particularly tight and is marked by those distinctive yellow lights.
Regular traffic continues straight ahead at the chicane leaving parts of the racetrack available to busses and tourist marquees for those seeking boat tours of the harbour. The colour of the tarmac helps highlight how tight this corner is for Grand Prix drivers.
With no traffic passing between the chicane and Tabac, the racetrack is free for pedestrians and parking.
The road rejoins the Grand prix circuit just before the Tabac corner where it hugs the edge of the harbour. The outside of the corner is home to a grandstand during the Grand Prix weekend but is used as a carpark at other times during the year. More flower boxes, as opposed to Armco fencing, prevent motorists from accidentally driving into the ocean. In this photo you can see a rock wall around the outside of the corner and the circuit actually ran along this up until the seventies.
Road traffic cuts straight through the entrance to the Swimming Pool complex but the light grey markings on the road indicate how tight the left-right flick is for F1 drivers. At the time this photo was taken (July 2011) a pair of black skidmarks were still present from Vitaly Petrov’s slide into the wall towards the end of last year’s Grand Prix.
The exit of the Swimming Pool complex is marked by a tight chicane for F1 drivers, but regular commuters only jink slightly before continuing straight on (where a grandstand sits during the Grand Prix weekend). From this photo you can see the stretch of racetrack coming out of the Swimming Pool underneath the pitlane is home to a restaurant and bar for most of the year. The La Rascasse club is visible after the marquees and is supposedly one of Monaco’s hottest nightspots.
More flower boxes confront the traffic exiting La Rascasse. Tourists wishing to drive around the follow the racetrack here are diverted to the right hand side of the road and actually bypass the final corner.
The final corner is named after the man who first conceived the Monaco Grand Prix and leads drivers back onto the main straight. The pitlane (on the right hand side) is a large open pedestrian area and hosts a number of carnival rides. The pit and garage buildings in Monaco are entirely temporary. The glamour elsewhere in the city is not.
This page was written by Martin Porter and posted by James Wilson